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Article: How can sport become an addiction?

The deputy chairman of the DGSPP, Prof Dr Frank-Gerald Pajonk, had the opportunity to give an interview for the health section of the online magazine. You can read the full text of the interview here or by clicking on the link:


Your friend follows the training plan to the letter: Runs for hours on end, doesn't skip exercise even when he or she feels ill. Does this indicate a sports addiction? What we should look out for in ourselves and those around us.

The more sport we do, the healthier we are - right? If everyday life is all about training, the sports sessions become more and more excessive, the body can no longer recover - then this no longer has much to do with a healthy sports routine.

Frank-Gerald Pajonk, a specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy, explains in an interview how a sports addiction develops and why those around you often don't notice it until it's too late.

What distinguishes a sports addiction from "healthy" sporting activity?

Frank-Gerald Pajonk: A sports addiction cannot be characterised solely by the fact that someone does sport seven times a week. A sports addiction is when someone no longer has a choice as to whether they want to do sport, but feels an inner compulsion. Those affected feel very uncomfortable when they stop exercising and even experience withdrawal symptoms.

What causes sports addiction?

Sports addiction is a behavioural addiction, like gambling addiction. Those affected pursue a specific intention with excessive sporting activity: to distract themselves, to achieve a state of relaxation, to switch off stressful things. At some point, this takes on a life of its own in the brain. After all, sport triggers happiness hormones that make you feel better. Those affected realise: I feel better, I have to keep achieving this state by doing more and more sport. This can develop into a sports addiction.

What role do body ideals play, for example the desire to be particularly slim or muscular?

Of course, this also plays a role - if those affected use sport to maintain or achieve a certain body image. A body image disorder can also ultimately lead to a sports addiction. Those affected perceive their body in a different form and appearance than it actually is. They try to achieve a desired ideal at all costs, even though there is no need to do so.

How can a sports addiction be recognised from the outside?

Doing a lot of sport is accepted in society. The fact that someone has developed a sports addiction is therefore usually only recognised later. This is when the physical consequences of excessive sporting activity become apparent, for example severe weight loss, hormonal disorders, great exhaustion and orthopaedic complaints.

What helps those affected by addiction?

If you suspect a sports addiction, you should consult a doctor who can then make a diagnosis. As a rule, therapeutic counselling is then required, in severe cases on an inpatient basis. This is because it is initially completely unimaginable for those affected to give up sport. A high level of motivation is required to keep up the abstinence from exercise and performance.


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